The window is closing as the Gulf Coast watches benumbed. This is not a storm to play with by any means. Now, I am a weather geek and storm chaser by proud admission but I would not stay for this one, not even if you paid me. I would at least pull back as far as the TN border and just sit tight because Hanna is out there too and my guess is that she will slip through the Florida Straits and into the Gulf next week. That scenario is being whispered around at the NHC and Accuweather as the worst case scenario but we’ll all have to hold our breath to see if it actually happens. So far all the models and particularly the European have been accurate as far as the track has been concerned but not the intensity. Only now, a full 24 hours after landfall in Cuba are we getting back info on how hard they got hit but no mortality numbers at present. And here is where it gets sticky…
The Loop Current is the flow around the Gulf of Mexico. In the Southeastern quadrant of the Gulf is where the Carribean and Yucatan currents converge into the loop making this point the place where the warmest water and the deepest water is located in the Gulf of Mexico.
Though much of the evidence for the loop current’s affect on tropical systems is circumstantial, I believe that over the next few years it will bear out scientifically because it just plain makes sense. We saw it with Katrina, Ivan, Rita and Camille. As a tropical system traverses this convergence area of the loop, it sits and churns over the deepest and warmest water. By August and September, that water has been warming for months and the zone grows slightly larger than in earlier months. So it follows then that any tropical system with enough convection and proper organization will strengthen considerably because of the favorable conditions. So what of Gustav? Well, it’s sitting right now as I write this over that hot spot and it would not surprise me if it grows into a Catagory 5 hurricane with in the next 8-10 hours today. If it stays at Catagory 4-5 for the next 36 hours that will be enough to cause enough momentum that when it does make landfall on Monday early morning that it won’t matter that it gets downgraded to a 3 or 2 for landfall. The damage will be massive with a storm surge that will again swamp the New Orleans metro area. If the storm makes landfall west of the Metro area, storm surge will be much more significant because the Northeast turn of the storm is always the most damaging. If the storm center tracks east of the Metro area then Biloxi will get the brunt of it. Still, even as Biloxi is slightly inland, the coast of Mississippi will see major if not catastropic damage.
Let’s look at Katrina for a minute and the real danger of storm surge. The storm center hit just southeast of the Metro area and for the most part New Orleans survived the initial hit. It was the breaches in the levees that doomed it and those came hours after landfall. Moreover, just to the east of the downtown area are the bedroom communities and parishes that are situated between the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Ponchatrain. With the levees breached the storm surge washed into those communities and Lake Ponchatrain backwashed into that same area creating a ‘storm surge’ of 18-20 feet and even more in other areas. That’s well over the height of a one story home and with nothing to break it the deluge is shocking and frightening to watch. This video taken by the Vaccarella family during Katrina is explicit so be warned. Watch the time stamps with regard to the level of water outside their home. Within two hours the water rose from 0 to over 18 ft. They lived in Tracy St. Meraux just East of the Metro area.